The Ballad of Backbone Joe | The Suitcase Royale


The Ballad of Backbone Joe | The Suitcase RoyaleLeft - Glen Walton and Joseph O’Farrell. Cover - Joseph O’Farrell, Miles O’Neil and Glen Walton. Photos - Lisa Tomasetti

An unshaven man with a bloodied shirt stands, relentlessly slamming his bare fists into a dangling cow carcass. Backbone Joe (Joseph O’Farrell) doesn’t give up. Nearby, bathing in the soft glow of a single bulb, Messy Dimes Dan (Miles O’Neil) does the books for his abattoir come underground boxing ring. Times are tough, meat isn’t moving like it’s meant to, and Messy Dimes Dan doesn’t believe in luck. Detective Von Trapp (Glen Walton) finds himself staying at the only hotel in town, a message from the femme fatale for Joe and the kind of curious nature that gets you killed.

Atop the set are three dioramas carved from cardboard: the hotel, the abattoir and the old bridge. Each set just far apart and in such a way to make you feel that you can see the town from afar. The set itself is constructed of all sorts of odds and ends fitting The Suitcase Royale’s junkyard theatre motif and it truly is a pleasure to watch O’Farrell, O’Neil and Walton play throughout their construction.

Playing is probably the best way to describe this performance in that it captures both the mood and variety of presented forms. The show opens with the boys performing in their blues/roots/jazz band (also known as The Suitcase Royale) but sooner than you know it they boys have traversed across film noir, puppetry (both traditional and shadow), slap-stick comedy and when they feel like it they just drop out of character completely to amuse themselves. It sounds ambitious, but they hold it all together with perfectly executed timing and charismatic performances.

Technically The Ballad of Backbone Joe is somewhat reminiscent of epic theatre, but rather than using the theatre as a social/political vessel this is more an entertaining melodrama. A discerning theatre snob might find this obnoxious and shallow, but on the whole I found it refreshing and accessible. The plot is a tad loose in spots and if you prefer to walk away from the theatre contemplating fresh concepts then you’ll probably find The Ballard of Backbone Joe frustrating. The other side of this coin is that if you love great live music and a tight murder/mystery with a comedic edge, then you’re in for a treat.


Sydney Theatre Company presents
The Ballad of Backbone Joe
The Suitcase Royale

Created and Performed by Joseph O’Farrell, Miles O’Neil and Glen Walton

Venue: Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company, Pier 4 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Dates: 21 September - 2 October 2010
Tickets: $25 - $30 (Transaction fees may apply)
Bookings: (02) 9250 1777 | sydneytheatre.com.au

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